Articles of Agreement for the Kirtland Safety Society Anti-Banking Company, 2 January 1837
Articles of Agreement for the Kirtland Safety Society Anti-Banking Company, , Geauga Co., OH, 2 Jan. 1837. Featured version published in “Articles of Agreement,” Latter Day Saints’ Messenger and Advocate, Jan. 1837, 3:441–443. For more complete source information, see the source note for Letter to Oliver Cowdery, Dec. 1834.
On 2 January 1837, officers and JS, along with the society’s directors, met with stockholders in , Ohio, to replace their November 1836 constitution with new articles of agreement to govern the society. Because only the legislature could grant banking privileges, those interested in establishing a bank were required to petition the legislature for an act of incorporation, also known as a charter. had been assigned in November 1836 to find a politician to present the society’s petition for a charter, but the only petition on record was not presented to the Ohio senate until 10 February 1837. When the society met on 2 January, it was uncertain whether the Democratic majority (with its aversion to private banking and paper currency) in the state legislature would approve a charter for the Kirtland Safety Society. The articles of agreement featured here were created to allow the society to act as an unincorporated bank, which they called an “anti-banking company” but which may have functioned as a joint-stock company. Despite this restructuring, the society continued to seek a banking charter after 2 January and continued to conduct banking services.
In drafting this new document, the authors reused many of the original articles from the 2 November 1836 constitution, though they also made changes, such as adding a new introduction and changing the terminology used in the text. Banking-specific terminology was replaced with generic business terms; for instance, references to the “bank” were changed to “company” and “stockholders” became “managers.” New articles were also added, including one that addressed the wording to be used for promissory notes made to the society. The officers may have received legal counsel in the process of drafting new articles of agreement, as reported by one contemporary observer. As had perhaps been the case with the original constitution, they may have also relied on their general knowledge of business and legal structures, supplemented by the language found in legal handbooks of the time. Footnotes to the text presented here identify substantive differences between the articles of the November 1836 constitution and those of the January 1837 articles of agreement.
The articles of agreement were printed in the January 1837 issue of the Messenger and Advocate, with a postscript by JS that asked members of the church to invest in the Kirtland Safety Society. JS’s quotations from the book of Isaiah suggest he envisioned a spiritual purpose for the Kirtland Safety Society in conjunction with its temporal benefits. The establishment of the Safety Society was tied to JS’s goals of developing into a large city and gathering the Saints there. JS and others may have had ambitious hopes that by developing Kirtland, and especially the Safety Society, funds could be raised for the church and for the redemption of .
The articles of agreement featured here were also reprinted in newspapers in and , Ohio. The March 1837 issue of the Messenger and Advocate published a slightly different version of these articles of agreement, along with the names of 187 individuals who identified themselves as stockholders. The version of the articles of agreement published in March 1837 reintroduced banking terminology that was altered in the text featured here. It also called the institution the “Kirtland Safety Society Banking Company,” and other records vary in usage of “anti-banking company” and “banking company.”
Ohio State Journal and Columbus Gazette. Columbus. 1825–1837.
Journal of the Senate of the State of Ohio; Being the First Session of the Thirty-fifth General Assembly, Begun and Held in the City of Columbus, Monday, December 5, 1836, and in the Thirty-fifth year of Said State. Columbus: James B. Gardiner, 1836.
Webster’s 1828 dictionary defines society as “any number of persons associated for a particular purpose, whether incorporated by law, or only united by articles of agreement; a fraternity.” The articles of agreement served to bind the stockholders together in place of legal incorporation. For more information on the Safety Society possibly functioning as a joint-stock company, see Walker, “Kirtland Safety Society and the Fraud of Grandison Newell,” 44–48. (“Society,” in American Dictionary.)
An American Dictionary of the English Language: Intended to Exhibit, I. the Origin, Affinities and Primary Signification of English Words, as far as They Have Been Ascertained. . . . Edited by Noah Webster. New York: S. Converse, 1828.
“Minutes of a Meeting,” LDS Messenger and Advocate, Mar. 1837, 3:475–477. Terminology such as the titles of president, cashier, and directors were reintroduced, replacing the neutral language in the version of the articles of agreement featured here. This may have resulted from the decision of the society’s officers by March 1837 to operate the society more explicitly in the style of a bank rather than a company.
dividually bind ourselves to each other under the penal sum of one hundred thousand dollars. In witness whereof we have hereunto set our hands and seals the day and date first written above.
In connexion with the above Articles of Agreement of the , I beg leave to make a few remarks to all those who are preparing themselves, and appointing their wise men, for the purpose of building up and her . It is wisdom and according to the mind of the Holy Spirit, that you should call at , and receive counsel and instruction upon those principles that are necessary to further the great work of the Lord, and to establish the children of the Kingdom, according to the oracles of God, as they are had among us. And further, we invite the brethren from abroad, to call on us, and take stock in our Safety Society. And we would remind them also of the sayings of the prophet Isaiah, contained in the 60th chapter, and more particularly the 9th and 17th verses, which are as follows: “Surely the isles shall wait for me, and the ships of Tarshish first, and to bring thy sons from far, their silver and their gold (not their bank notes) with them, unto the name of the Lord thy God, and to the holy one of Israel, because he hath glorified thee.
[“]For brass I will bring gold, and for iron I will bring silver, and wood brass and for stones iron: I will also make thy officers peace, and thine exactors righteousness.” Also 62 ch. 1st vrs. “For Zion’s sake will I not hold my peace, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest, until the righteousness thereof go forth as brightness, and the salvation thereof as a lamp that burneth.[”]
This echoes the December 1833 and February 1834 revelatory injunctions to select wise men from the churches to purchase land in order to establish Zion. The phrasing JS uses here regarding the appointment of “wise men” is also similar to conference minutes from December 1836 that established guidelines for those Saints interested in moving to Kirtland. (Revelation, 16–17 Dec. 1833 [D&C 101:73]; Revelation, 24 Feb. 1834 [D&C 103:23]; Minutes, 22 Dec. 1836.)
Though JS may have added this parenthetical in jest, it demonstrates the Kirtland Safety Society’s need for specie and not simply payment in banknotes. It is difficult to know how much coinage the Safety Society had at any given time, and reports of the amount held differ dramatically. The Cleveland Weekly Advertiser stated that the society had $16,000 in “specie and bankable funds” in January 1837. Warren Parrish, the clerk for the society who was elected to replace JS as cashier in summer 1837, later wrote, “I have been astonished to hear him [JS] declare that we had 60,000 Dollars in specie in our vaults and $600,000 at our command, when we had not to exceed $6,000 and could not command any more.” Parrish’s claims may have been colored by his objections to JS’s leadership and his excommunication from the church. No other sources exist to substantiate any of these amounts. The society likely had the ten percent necessary to redeem a portion of their notes when they opened their office at the beginning of January 1837, but they did not have a substantial specie reserve. The public’s widespread reluctance to use or accept the society’s notes, and the efforts of opponents like Grandison Newell to demand the redemption of hundreds of dollars of notes at one time, worked to deplete what reserves they had gathered. (“Kirtland Safety Society,” Cleveland Weekly Advertiser, 2 Feb. 1837, ; Warren Parrish, Kirtland, OH, 5 Feb. 1838, Letter to the Editor, Painesville [OH] Republican, 15 Feb. 1838, ; John Smith and Clarissa Lyman Smith, Kirtland, OH, to George A. Smith, Shinnston, VA, 1 Jan. 1838, George Albert Smith, Papers, CHL.)